Ray Stark

Ray Stark
Born Raymond Otto Stark
October 3, 1915
New York, New York
Died January 17, 2004 (2004-01-18) (aged 88)
Alma mater Rutgers University
Occupation Film Producer, Literary and Talent Agent
Years active 1939-2000
Agent Famous Artists Agency, Seven Arts Productions, Rastar Film
Notable work Funny Girl, The Night of the Iguana, Lolita, The World of Suzie Wong, The Misfits

Ray Stark (October 3, 1915 – January 17, 2004) was one of the most successful and prolific independent film producers in postwar Hollywood. Highly tenacious and intelligent, Stark’s background as a literary and theatrical agent groomed him to produce some of the most dynamic and profitable films of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, such as The World of Suzie Wong (1961), West Side Story (1961), The Misfits (1961), Lolita (1962), The Night of The Iguana (1964), Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Funny Girl (1968), The Goodbye Girl (1977), The Toy (1982), Annie (1982), and Steel Magnolias (1989).

In addition to his roster of films, Stark formed relationships with various directors and writers throughout his inspired career. Stark made eight films with Herbert Ross, five with John Huston, and three with Sydney Pollack. Additionally, Stark’s 18-year partnership with playwright Neil Simon yielded 11 films between the duo, including The Goodbye Girl (1977) and The Sunshine Boys (1975).[1] In 1980, the Motion Picture Academy awarded him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for a lifetime of achievement in film.

Early life

Raymond Otto Stark was born on October 3, 1915 in Manhattan, the second child of Sadie (née Gotlieb) and Maximilian Stark. Ray grew up on East 58th street near Central Park. It was Ray’s mother who took a dutiful approach to his education, grooming him to be well-read and precocious. Ray attended grade school in Manhattan, skipping two grades, before attending The Kohut School, a boarding school for boys in Harrison, New York. There, Stark’s major scholastic interest was writing where he went on to write articles for the school’s newspaper, The Kohut Klipper, in which his first article was an interview with actress Ginger Rogers whom he brazenly approached after seeing her in a play.

In 1931, at 15 years of age, Stark was the youngest student ever admitted to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. At Rutgers, Stark continued to take strong interest in literature (one of his favorite classes was Shakespeare) but he did not know how to pursue it occupationally. In 1935, Stark returned to Manhattan to attend NYU Law, although he did not graduate.

As Stark’s interests shifted more heavily to journalism and entertainment, he took an opportunity to live with a friend in Los Angeles. Following a job at Forest Lawn Cemetery as a florist and then as writing assistant to comedian and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, Stark took a job as a publicist for Warner Bros. Studios in 1937.

Seven Arts Productions (with Eliot Hyman)

In 1957 Ray Stark and Eliot Hyman founded Seven Arts Productions, an independent production company which made movies for release by other studios. Stark was head of production, in charge of buying film properties and supervising production, while Hyman was instrumental in forming deals and handling finances. West Side Story, Anatomy of a Murder, By Love Possessed, The Nun’s Story, and Night of the Iguana, were among some of the first works purchased by Stark with Seven Arts. However, Stark chose to produce The World of Suzie Wong first, a lesser-known play outside of Seven Arts.

The World of Suzie Wong, which originally cast the lead from the Broadway production, France Nuyen, went on to star and mark the discovery of Chinese actress Nancy Kwan. Interpersonal complications with France Nuyen interfered with shooting, and Stark replaced her with newcomer Nancy Kwan, who was later nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actress in the role.

Rastar Productions

In 1966, Stark left Seven Arts to found his own production company, Rastar Productions. Rastar’s first production was the film version of Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand. The company went on to produce many notable films of the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s, including The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), The Way We Were (1973), Murder By Death (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), Seems Like Old Times (1980), Annie (1982), and Steel Magnolias (1989). In 1974, Rastar was acquired by Columbia Pictures, which included Rastar Productions, Rastar Pictures, Rastar Features, and Rastar Television. Ray Stark then founded Rastar Films, the reincarnation of Rastar Pictures and it was acquired by Columbia Pictures in 1980.[1]

Films with Barbra Streisand

Although stage and film actress Anne Bancroft was the initial first choice to play Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, (the biopic production based on Stark’s iconic mother in-law), Stark felt drawn to Barbra Streisand, an unknown singer and performer on the rise in New York City. After a long courtship with the then unknown, Stark and Jerome Robbins, (the production supervisor and director of the Broadway show) decided to cast her as their lead.

After an arduous rehearsal period filled with revisions and rewrites, Funny Girl opened to rave reviews on Broadway and became a critical and commercial success. Stark had the smash hit he’d hoped for, and Streisand emerged as a full-fledged star. For both, it was the beginning of an often stormy relationship that would span four more motion pictures over the course of eleven years. Following the Broadway show, Stark formed Rastar Productions in order to finance the film version of Funny Girl due to foiled deals with Columbia and Paramount Pictures. After a year of difficult negotiations, Stark signed Streisand to Rastar Productions in a lengthy contract that bound Stark and Streisand to make four more films together: The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), The Way We Were starring Robert Redford, directed by Sydney Pollack (1973), For Pete’s Sake (1974), and Funny Lady (1975).


Ray Stark had commissioned an authorized biography of Brice, based on taped recollections she had dictated, but was unhappy with the result. It eventually cost him $50,000 to stop publication of The Fabulous Fanny, as it had been titled by the author. Stark then turned to Ben Hecht to write the screenplay for a biopic, but neither Hecht nor the ten writers who succeeded him were able to produce a version that satisfied Stark. Finally, Isobel Lennart submitted My Man, which pleased both Stark and Columbia Pictures executives, who offered Stark $400,000 plus a percentage of the gross for the property.[2]

After reading the screenplay, Mary Martin contacted Stark and proposed it be adapted for a stage musical. Stark discussed the possibility with producer David Merrick, who suggested Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim compose the score. Sondheim told Styne, "I don't want to do the life of Fanny Brice with Mary Martin. She's not Jewish. You need someone ethnic for the part." Shortly after, Martin lost interest in the project and backed out.[3]

Merrick discussed the project with Jerome Robbins, who gave the screenplay to Anne Bancroft. She agreed to play Brice if she could handle the score. Merrick suggested Styne collaborate with Dorothy Fields as lyricist, but she was not interested. He went to Palm Beach, Florida for a month and composed music he thought Bancroft would be able to sing. While he was there, he met Bob Merrill, and he played the five melodies he already had written for him. Merrill agreed to write lyrics for them; these included "Who Are You Now?" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance." Styne was happy with the results and the two men completed the rest of the score, then flew to Los Angeles to play it for Stark, Robbins, and Bancroft, who was at odds with Merrill because of an earlier personal conflict. She listened to the score, then stated, "I want no part of this. It's not for me."[3]

With Bancroft out of the picture, Eydie Gormé was considered, but she agreed to play Brice only if her husband Steve Lawrence was cast as Nicky Arnstein. Since they thought he was wrong for the role, Stark and Robbins approached Carol Burnett, who said, "I'd love to do it but what you need is a Jewish girl." With options running out, Styne thought Barbra Streisand, whom he remembered from I Can Get It for You Wholesale, would be perfect. She was performing at the Bon Soir in Greenwich Village and Styne urged Robbins to see her. He was impressed and asked her to audition. Styne later recalled, "She looked awful ... All her clothes were out of thrift shops. I saw Fran Stark staring at her, obvious distaste on her face." Despite his wife's objections, Stark hired Streisand on the spot.[3]

Robbins had an argument with Lennart and told Stark he wanted her replaced because he thought she was not capable of adapting her screenplay into a viable book for a stage musical. Stark refused and Robbins quit the project.[3]

Funny Girl temporarily was shelved, and Styne moved on to other projects, including Fade Out – Fade In for Carol Burnett. Then Merrick signed Bob Fosse to direct Funny Girl, and work began on it again, until Fosse quit and the show went into limbo for several months. Then Merrick suggested Stark hire Garson Kanin. It was Merrick's last contribution to the production; shortly afterward he bowed out, and Stark became sole producer.[3]

Streisand was not enthusiastic about Kanin as a director and insisted she wanted Robbins back, especially after Kanin suggested "People" be cut from the score because it didn't fit the character. Streisand already had recorded the song for a single release, and Merrill insisted, "It has to be in the show because it's the greatest thing she's ever done." Kanin agreed to let it remain based on audience reaction to it. By the time the show opened in Boston, people were so familiar with "People" they applauded it during the overture.[3]

There were problems with the script and score throughout rehearsals, and when Funny Girl opened in Boston it was too long, even though thirty minutes already had been cut. The critics praised Streisand but disliked the show. Lennart continued to edit her book and deleted another thirty minutes before the show moved to Philadelphia, where critics thought the show could be a hit if the libretto problems were rectified.[3]

The New York opening was postponed five times while extra weeks were played out of town. Five songs were cut, and "You Are Woman", a solo for Sydney Chaplin, was rewritten as a counterpoint duet. Streisand was still unhappy with Kanin and was pleased when Robbins returned to oversee the choreography by Carol Haney.[3]

Films with John Huston

A close friend and creative confidant of John Huston, Stark produced four highly successful films with the visionary director. Stark and Huston formed a close bond while shooting Tennessee Williams’ The Night of The Iguana (1964) starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner on-location in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Following their success, Huston and Stark went on to create Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), based on the 1941 novel by acclaimed author Carson McCullers and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, Fat City (1972), and the commercially successful remake of Annie the musical (1982) starring Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Geoffrey Holder, Edward Herrmann, and Aileen Quinn in her film debut.

Films with Neil Simon

Over an 18-year period Stark produced eleven scripts by acclaimed playwright Neil Simon, including The Sunshine Boys (1975), for which George Burns won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor; Murder by Death (1976), featuring an eclectic cast of Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Maggie Smith; The Goodbye Girl (1977) with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, for which Dreyfus won the Academy Award for Best Actor; and California Suite (1978), which won Maggie Smith the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Others in the incredibly productive Neil Simon/ Rastar collaboration included Seems Like Old Times (1980), with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase; The Cheap Detective, starring Peter Falk, and Chapter Two with James Caan and Marsha Mason.

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award

In 1980, Stark’s incredible body of work was officially recognized when he received the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, a rare honor given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a lifetime achievement in film. Presented by close friend and colleague actor Kirk Douglas, whom Stark represented at Famous Artists Agency, Douglas introduced Stark as the unseen "Oz" of Hollywood.[1] Stark humbly received the award, fighting impulses of stage fright to deliver a thoughtful yet funny speech. Stark was known for his distaste for public appearances and belief that talent, not producers, should receive all public attention.[1] Stark was later awarded the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America in 1999, with guild President Thom Mount calling him "one of Hollywood's most prolific film producers ... the stuff of legend."

Personal life

Soon after relocating to Los Angeles from New York City, Ray met his future-wife, Frances Brice, at a party. She mentioned her mother was “Baby Snooks,” the legendary comedic actress Fanny Brice. Although Stark failed to remember who the actress was, he soon fell madly in love with Fran, claiming she was the most charming girl he’d ever met. Following a brief courtship, they were married on September 26, 1940. The couple soon after had two children, Peter and Wendy Stark. Ray Stark died of heart failure in 2004 at age 88.[1]

Despite a busy schedule throughout his active career, Ray made time for his interests in horses and philanthropy.

Ray and his wife Frances owned Rancho Corral de Quati, a 300-acre (1.2 km2) ranch in Los Olivos, California and were breeders of Thoroughbred racehorses.

A passionate horse lover, Stark was twice named California Thoroughbred Breeder of the Year.

Additionally, Stark was an avid art collector. He amassed a wide collection of outdoor sculptures by artist and close friend, Henry Moore, and his walls were adorned with various pieces by Monet, Picasso and Kandinsky. Following his death, Stark’s outdoor sculpture collection was donated to the Getty Museum where it can be seen today. The Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden opened in 2007 and accounts for approximately 75% of the sculptures in the museum's collection.

Philanthropic Endeavors

In 1982, Fran and Ray Stark founded The Fran and Ray Stark Foundation, a foundation committed to the growth of communities in art, culture and medicine. The Stark Foundation supports a number of institutions in Los Angeles such as The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Motion Picture and Television Country House, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Homeboy Industries and several Department Chairs at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, equipped for 3D presentation, is one of three situated in the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts Complex, completed in 2010.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Kilgannon, Corey (2004-01-18). "Ray Stark, Oscar-Nominated Producer, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  2. Herman, Jan (1995). A Talent For Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director. New York: Putnam. pp. 0–399. ISBN 0399140123.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Taylor, Theodore (1979). Jule: The Story of The Composer Jule Styne. New York, New York: Random House. pp. 0–394. ISBN 0394412966.
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